'Employer Cost-Cutting, Not Automation' Behind Future Job Losses in Britain

A recent study by the Royal Society of the Arts, representing employers' views in Britain, claims that up to four million jobs could be lost in the UK's private sector as technology advances, while unions have doubts.

Forty percent of UK business leaders, responding to a survey by the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA), have suggested as many as four million jobs could be rendered unnecessary in the private economy throughout the coming decade as technological progress, automation and artificial intelligence continue to improve.

The head of the RSA, Matthew Taylor, formerly served as a chief prime ministerial advisor.

The number of jobs threatened by the trend collectively amounts to 15% of the British workforce according to the survey, and is a more conservative estimate than other studies which have placed the projected proportion at over a third of the working population.

The second highest proportion of employers by industry who believe that up to 30% of jobs could be lost to automation is transport and distribution, the survey reveals.

Transportation unions however, are far less sure that technological change will render their workers obsolete any time soon.

Keith Richmond of the Associated Society of Locomotive Steam Enginemen and Firemen (ASLEF), which has operated since 1880, suggested that the greatest threat to workers on British railways came from cost-cutting by employers rather than automation, and that the transportation industry more generally is unlikely to be taken over by self-driving vehicles.

"There hasn't been a great deal of automation of British railways, there are job losses and employers have succeeded at cut jobs in the rail industry, but not really through automation," Mr. Richmond told Sputnik.

Other industries with the highest proportion of bosses expecting job losses include manufacturing, finance, media advertising, retail and IT and telecommunications.

According to Mr. Richmond, issues of safety and customer confidence mean that, although automation already plays a part in transportation, particularly on aircraft, it is unlikely to ever surpass the need for human intervention.

"The thing about automated systems is that they often fail and you need the driver to step in and take control. Although people talk in a science-fiction type way about driverless trains, there is no way in the foreseeable future that we will have trains without drivers on the British rail network," Mr. Richmond said.

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